Giving art a voice

Kunsthal Charlottenborg got its new director on 1 September 2015. Michael Thouber is 44, holds a degree in Modern Culture and left a managerial position with the Danish broadcasting corporation DR to take up the chair as director.

His experience as head of Denmark’s leading cultural TV channel will help him translate his mission into reality: Making contemporary art reach a wider demographic.

What does contemporary art mean to you?

My personal reason for applying for the position as director of Kunsthal Charlottenborg was the fact that I myself have had my life changed by contemporary art. It asks essential questions that challenge my own values, but also the way I see the world and the times we live in.

Art opens you up; it invites personal reflection based on new perspectives, and it paves the way for important conversations with others.

Art can achieve this because artists often think in different ways from most people, and this enables us all to try out new ways of looking at things.

Art allows you to grow as a human being. It is like passing a good book on to a friend: I want to share contemporary art with others because I believe that it is good for you.

How will you make contemporary art accessible to more people?

Artists are free to do whatever they want. But I strongly feel that the rest of us – those of us who work with art in other ways – have an obligation to make that art accessible to as many as possible.

I am no preacher, and I do not set out to convert the unwilling. But I have always felt that I have a calling, if that’s not too grand a term, to make contemporary art available and relevant to more people, and to present the potential inherent in those works to a wider audience.

Kunsthal Charlottenborg has everything you need to succeed in speaking to a wide demographic: we have an excellent location in the heart of the city, we have an amazingly beautiful venue and art of a very high level.

So the way I see it, the main challenge ahead of us here at Kunsthal Charlottenborg concerns the way the art is presented and communicated. In this regard I hope to benefit from my time with DR2, where I learnt how you can explore important agendas while also attracting large audiences.

My vision is to make Kunsthal Charlottenborg an epicentre of Danish and international contemporary art; a rallying point where the established and the experimental can converge.

To cut to the chase, we face a fundamental challenge: we want to attract larger audiences, but we also insist that the artistic quality must not be compromised. Balancing this requires a clear-cut profile – in relation to the art scene and to the general public alike.

What opportunities do you see in your close affiliation with the Schools of Visual Art?

I believe that being part of the same organisation as the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts is a huge advantage for Kunsthal Charlottenborg.

This is one of the distinguishing traits that help make Kunsthal Charlottenborg special: our opportunities for direct collaboration.

First of all, we have easy access to the new talents emerging out of the academy. And the academy professors and the many guests that visit the academy on a regular basis all share very strong ambitions on behalf of the arts – just like we do at Kunsthal Charlottenborg.

What might future collaborations between Kunsthal Charlottenborg and the Schools of Visual Arts be like?

I have many ideas on how we might collaborate, but before I go into details I’d like to talk to the students and professors to hear what would be interesting to them.

I can say that I have already invited Daniel Birnbaum, who is the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, to visit Copenhagen this November. He will give a talk with Forsythe, who is our featured artist at Kunsthal Charlottenborg at that point.

What is really interesting about Daniel Birnbaum in this context is the fact that he ran Portikus in Frankfurt for several years; Portikus is also directly affiliated with an art academy, and Daniel has promised to share his experiences with that kind of co-operation with us. I hope we will learn a lot from him.

What are the first things you’ll work on?

One of the areas where I see a definite challenge is the question of attracting international attention. Back in the 1990s and the early 2000s – when I was still a student and ran the small exhibition venue and journal 1% with friends from university and the art academy – international curators and art institutions were clearly and actively interested in young Danish artists.

This was partly because we still had the Center for Dansk Billedkunst (Centre for Danish Arts) back in those days; the Centre worked very actively to raise international awareness of Danish art and helped younger Danish artists exhibit abroad. Many of those artists now enjoy major international careers: Olafur Eliasson, Jeppe Hein, Kirstine Roepstorff, Tal R, John Kørner, Jens Haaning, Elmgren & Dragset and many others.

I think we can improve the efforts made to attract international attention today. I would like to help push the next generation of artists onto the international art scene and rekindle the general international interest in what is happening right now in Denmark.

Of course I also hope that the academy will benefit from our many exhibitions featuring international artists. For example, we recently met with Ibrahim Mahama, a Ghanaian artist who has created a very spectacular work for this year’s Venice Biennial.  He will return in the spring of 2016 to prepare a façade piece for Kunsthal Charlottenborg, and we have already talked about the possibility of him giving a lecture to the academy students.

I can certainly see us arranging a lot more events like that when other international artists visit Kunsthal Charlottenborg.

You have said that you would like to see art play a more active role in contemporary debates.  What do you mean by this?

I believe that Kunsthal Charlottenborg should help promote art’s position in society today. Art and society are not separate entities. Art is created in the society of which it is part; it holds up a mirror to its own time. Poetically and politically.

There are many artists out there with strong voices and strong opinions. I would like to help carry those voices forward. If Kunsthal Charlottenborg can raise awareness of the reflections offered by contemporary art, if we can give art a voice in the ongoing discussions about the age we live in, then people will support contemporary art and seek it out themselves.